Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

I was born in 1989, years after the NES was released in the United States. My first consoles were the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. My late-teenage years were spent playing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I know my older fans find this hard to believe, but I really don’t get nostalgic for the games they are nostalgic for. I got an Atari compilation on Steam for Christmas and committed gaming blasphemy by saying Asteroids didn’t hold up well. It doesn’t. The same basic concept has been done better many times since the 70s, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise. You can only give the classics points for innovating, but you have to be nostalgia-drunk to the point of delusion to think these games are relevant to play today. And yet, those older gamers tell me with a straight-face “games were BETTER back in my day and I won’t play that modern crap!” Well I assume it’s a straight face. Sometimes it’s hard to see past their neck-beards.

Anyway, to those increasingly decrepit Reagan-era gamers, how about some modern crap that looks like your old, crusty crap?

This is not Zelda II. Hey retro fanboys, here's a thought: instead of seeing this picture and saying "that makes me want to play Zelda II, a game I've already finished twenty times" why not, I dunno, PLAY THIS GAME THAT YOU'VE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE? Ugh.

This is not Zelda II. Hey retro fanboys, here’s a thought: instead of seeing this picture and saying “that makes me want to play Zelda II, a game I’ve already finished twenty times” why not, I dunno, PLAY THIS GAME THAT YOU’VE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE?

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (that sounds like something an anime fan would say while having a stroke) looks, sounds, and feels like an NES game so convincingly that it’s creepy. With the exception of the menus.. this is the most nit-picky complaint I’ve ever made.. that are not remotely 8-bit and ruin the retro-illusion every time you pause the game, this is the closest I’ve ever seen to an NES indie game that isn’t a ROM hack. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It was developed by Minor Key Games, the guys behind the horribly named You Have to Win the Game and Super Win the Game. These guys clearly have honed nostalgia-mimicry to a science as much as they have set back naming games by decades. Gunmetal Arcadia Zero’s utterly forgettable word-salad name hides a remarkable exercise in memory-baiting.

In fact, the game looks so much like Zelda II that I had people ask me if it was a ROM hack of it. It’s not. Nor is the game really a whole lot like Zelda II. It’s more like a classic Castlevania game in terms of enemy designs (including the annoying Medusa-head monsters that fly in with a sine-curve pattern), secondary weapons, and even getting resources by smacking candles. It’s admirable in the same way that a psychotic fan getting plastic surgery to look like their favorite pop-idol is: you want to tell them how impressed you are even if you question their sanity. Yet, I can’t really complain about how brazenly Minor Key ripped-off those classic games because it does it so well that their IP owners should honestly just think of hiring him to revive those dead licenses. I’m dead serious.

Show of hands: who thinks the little brown blob things look like the cocoons from Gremlins?

Show of hands: who thinks the little brown blob things look like the cocoons from Gremlins?

For example, anyone who played those old-timey Castlevania games surely complained about the insane recoil that would happen every time you took damage, often leading to a cheap falling-death. That doesn’t happen here, and it makes the experience more enjoyable. That’s how an indie developer should pay tribute to their childhood classics: you fix what was broken about them. Trying to also include the faults of those titles is misguided. Pay tribute to the spirit of them, not the execution. In that sense, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a bad translation) is one of the best old-school tributes ever. It rights a LOT of wrongs. Better play-control than the average game back then had. Better level design. More sophisticated upgrades. Okay, they left in a lives system, but hey, you’ve got to include that minimal-indie-badness somewhere.

Actually, it screws up a lot of stuff. None of the character or enemy designs are particularly memorable. The boss designs are so bland that I can’t help but wonder if the developer nerfed them so nobody would have time to process how lame they are. They’re total pansies. The average boss fight was over before I could count to ten. I’m not even kidding. But really, the whole game is kind of easy. One of my best friends told me he found the game too hard. Now I feel like giving him a pity hug because I annihilated Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a talentless underground metal band) with minimal effort. I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly skilled platform player, so that disturbs me a bit. I can’t imagine someone who was weened on the original Castlevania struggling at all with this. I game-overed once and mistook that moment as the game getting teeth. It didn’t. Maybe I just choose the right set of weapons. The Castlevania-esq axe that you throw in an upward arc was useful for taking out enemies at long-range and rendered the second-to-last boss such a pushover that I wonder if anyone making the game play-tested it. It was a bit on the pitiful side.

This is the boss I'm talking about. As long as you don't trade the axe for any other item pick-up, you can make a mockery of the design.

This is the boss I’m talking about. As long as you don’t trade the axe for any other item pick-up, you can make a mockery of the design.

Even with the opportunity to play through it a second time selecting the opposite of two different classes, I don’t think I would want to, nor would I really want DLC for this. The story is boring and poorly written. Yea, maybe that’s a trope of the NES era, but Shovel Knight aspired to invoke those memories and it made more than one battle-hardened gamer tear up during its memorable ending. Given that Super Win’s story left a lot to be desired, I think Minor Key might want to consider bringing in writers. There’s no shame in that. Know what you’re good at and work with that. Minor Key has reached that upper-echelon of neo-retro game development. Their games work as both tributes and as stand-alone titles. A whippersnapper like me from a totally different generation can still appreciate the skill and craftsmanship on display here. And if I like it, I can’t imagine how NES fans will take to it. Their heads might pop, something we’re all fine with. Well, the developer will be fine as long as they plunk down money on their game first. Corpses don’t buy games. Probably.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is really fun, and not even despite the flaws. I would totally believe this is a lost NES game by a major developer that slipped through the cracks of history. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it makes me wonder what my life would be like if I had grown up during that 80s Nintendo boom. Would I be one of those die-hards that needs to think about baseball every time Nintendo announces a barely-changed sequel to one of their franchises or else risk putting someone’s eye out? Probably not because, well, vagina. But seriously, my generation needs games like this to remind us that gaming’s past is always a peek into gaming’s future. That a game like Gunmetal Arcadia Zero could come out in 2016 and still manage to capture the imaginations of multiple generations of gamers is kind of remarkable, isn’t it? No, your generation’s games aren’t better than mine, and mine aren’t better than today’s. Instead, let’s all take a step back and say, you know what, as long as stuff like this comes out, gaming is alright. Always has been. Always will be.

See, I can be sentimental.

headerGunmetal Arcadia Zero was developed by Minor Key Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$5.99 noted this is actually a prequel to a game scheduled for release in a couple months that will have a totally different play style in the making of this review. Okie doki.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.


Santa’s Special Delivery

Key to indie success: make a game so jaw-droppingly obscene people like me who get off on that stuff check it out just to see how truly desensitized we are. With some rare exceptions (like, say, South Park: The Stick of Truth), those games usually fail. Fist of Jesus, a game whose entire selling point seems to be “watch Jesus rip out a zombie’s heart” might be a contender for worst game I’ve ever played at Indie Gamer Chick. But I did buy it, so I guess it worked. Which means I’m part of the problem. Excuse me while I go sprinkle table-salt in my eyes.


Okay, then. Santa’s Special Delivery. It’s a game whose entire selling point is “Santa will poop down chimneys.” There’s also a small splash of digital gore if you screw up and lose one of the reindeer, but otherwise it’s all shit, all the time, sorta like CBS these days.

Just stay away from the northwest corner of the Bay and we'll be good, Santa.

Just stay away from the northwest corner of the Bay and we’ll be good, Santa.

Here’s the thing. When I was a little kid, there was a game for the Nintendo 64 called Clay Fighter 63 1/3. It was a horrible parody of fighting games. One of the unlockable characters was named “Sumo Santa” and his finishing move involved jumping up into the air, landing ass-first onto your opponent so that your opponent would be stuck up Santa’s butthole. Santa would then bend over, take aim, and fire, blowing the opponent out in chunks.

This came out in 1997. I played it in 1998. It’s now 2016. Yea.

It was also the last time I ever said “Hey Mom and Dad, come look at this!” I learned my lesson.

So if you want to make me say “now you’ve gone too far” with jolly old Saint Nick, you have to at least be more jaw-dropping than a game released 20 years ago. Thus, Santa’s Special Delivery has to stand on its own purely from a gameplay point of view instead of as a novelty title. It can’t. It’s basically a stripped-down version of Paperboy (stripped down versions of already mediocre games four years older than me are never a good thing) where you fly around pushing button prompts and occasionally dodge snowmen that have a big warning “RIGHT HERE!” arrow marking where they are. After each-stage, you button mash to try to make Santa take a dump down the chimney so large it destroys the house.

That’s it. It gets old so fast it nearly skips past “embarrassed giggle” and goes straight to “Christ, this is boring.” It’s repetitive. It’s slow in ramping up the difficulty. It’s even a bit glitchy. A couple of times it loaded up the poop-in-chimney button-mashing mini-game that pops up at the end of every stage, but as soon as the countdown stopped, it just ended. I thought maybe it was because I had done bad on the stage, but then I aced stages and it still did it sometimes. I mean, that ministage is basically the whole selling point of the game so that was a little annoying.

This should be enough to get me excommunicated. Woo hoo! Free Sundays!

This should be enough to get me excommunicated. Woo hoo! Free Sundays!

There’s no high scores, local or online, and so the entire basis of the game is based on the novelty of “Santa poops in chimney.” Funny for like fifteen seconds, until you realize “I mean, he’s gotta poop somewhere, right?.

headerSanta’s Special Delivery was developed by Drunk Robot Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.69 (normally $2.99) wouldn’t have been too ashamed to see her name on a leaderboard for this in the making of this review. I mean, hell, if I play something I want to know whether I’m good at it or not.

This was on Ouya. Yea.

This article may only be reprinted with my express written consent, which can only be granted if you can get me snuck onto the set of Westworld so that I can fawn over Jimmi Simpson because damn he’s sexy.

Slayaway Camp

In the interest of full disclosure, my friend Nate Schmold, whom I met following my review of his title Cosmochoria, was involved in the development of Slayaway Camp. Nate didn’t ask me for this review, and in fact, when I bought Slayaway Camp I had no idea who made it. It’s actually kind of funny. About an hour into playing it, I was like “okay, which demented fucker came up with this?” Then I found out and was like “NATE? The guy who made the super cutesy space adventure? No.” Anyway, as always my friendships with developers do not influence my reviews, but my readers deserve to know who’s on my non-existent Christmas card list.

Make sure you’re comfortable in your seats. Are you? So comfy you won’t get up and walk away? Better scoot further down just to make sure. Let me know when your butt goes numb.

Are you there yet?


Slayaway Camp is a puzzle game developed by WAIT STOP WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Do not leave. Do not click off. Hear me out. Yes, it’s a puzzler, but it has murder! Everyone likes murder, right? Murder is the cornerstone of gaming. If Grand Theft Auto involved colorful squid children spraying paint instead of bullets, who would like it? I mean besides the developmentally paralyzed? I kid, I kid.

The thing I hate about voxel games.. any voxel game.. is that they look like crap in screenshots. The trailer is below. use it.

The thing I hate about voxel games.. any voxel game.. is that they look like crap in screenshots. The trailer is below. Use it.

At first, I thought Slayaway Camp would just be one of those “your character moves in a straight line until he can’t move anymore” puzzlers that we really need a name for. They’re everywhere. I’ve played a few at IGC, dating back to Starzzle, which I reviewed one week after opening this blog. I figured these have gone about as far as they can with the concept. But Slayaway Camp actually has some nifty gameplay concepts that use the Friday the 13th-inspired setting as more than just window dressing. In order to complete stages, you must murder all the humans present. In later levels, this includes not letting them escape or accidentally killing kittens. Yes, kittens. Just because you’re a psychopath doesn’t mean you’re a monster. The game uses the setting to come up with novel puzzle-points unique to the move-all-the-way control style and kept things relatively fresh from start to finish. So, to be clear, it took a homage to the extremely tired 80s slasher film genre to freshen up puzzlers. I swear, sometimes I wonder if anything makes sense anymore.

The concept works wonderfully, and at times can be really fun. So what’s the problem? The lack of tight puzzle design, for one thing. Many stages have multiple outs for solving, which I’ve always disliked. A great puzzler should have stages with one and only one way of being solved, with those solutions not being self-evident. Slayaway Camp’s “move until you hit something” design lends itself to simple reverse-engineering and rendered it one of the easiest puzzlers I’ve played at IGC, though as always, I’m sort of a puzzle addict so your mileage may vary. No matter your skill level, expect a wildly inconsistent difficulty curve that makes me wonder if the team at Blue Wizard Digital had nobody to properly order the levels for them. Seldom do I actively wonder if a game is made by someone who is not a fan of a genre. I did that several times while playing Slayaway Camp. Really glitchy too. Sometimes the credit roll, a throwaway joke when you die, would run right over the game while it was in progress. One time I failed to beat a stage, died, and the game declared me victorious in failure. I’m sure these will get cleaned up, but still, weird.

My reaction to the Power Rangers movie trailer says that's not true.

My reaction to the Power Rangers movie trailer says otherwise.

Puzzlers are far and away the toughest sells in gaming. Indie Gamer Chick has been open for over five years now, and with the exception of my reviews of mobile games, puzzlers get the lowest page views by far here. Quality is not relevant. Leaderboard ranking has no influence on it. Maybe there’s only one thing that puzzle fans use to decide on whether to purchase a game or not: is it functional or is it broken? Slayaway Camp is functional, and so genre fans can enjoy it for what it is. For everyone else, there’s apparently no interest at all in the puzzle genre. So why do I keep bothering with these reviews? For the same reasons I’m guessing Slayaway Camp decided to go all-out with a blood-‘n’-guts splatter movie presentation: the hope of luring new people into a genre they would otherwise ignore. While I’m not the biggest fan of voxels and I think retro gore is played, I admire the effort to get new eyes on a genre on the fringe of gaming, even if those eyes are attached to the end of a rusty machete.

headerSlayaway Camp was developed by Wait Stop What are you Doing
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$6.65 (normally $8.99) kept typing “Sleepaway Camp” like a total dumbass in the making of this review.

Slayaway Camp is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

The Last Time

I’m not really a fan of 80s style point and click games. Becoming a gamer at the dawn of 3D games sort of soured me on the idea of complex adventures being played out via arrows, clicking, drop-down menus, and item puzzles with raving logic. Children of the 80s try to explain to me the appeal in them, but it’s as lost on me as calculus or WKRP in Cincinnati. So, why on Earth would I select The Last Time for review? Because a critic should play stuff outside their preferred genres with minds open to the possibility that they could be surprised. It doesn’t matter if your expectations are so low that Jill Stein is out-polling them.

Yes............. bungled.

Yes…………. bungled.

Thankfully, today’s game defies convention. As far as I can tell, there’s no fail condition in The Last Time. Over the course of the ninety minutes or so of gameplay, I committed no less than six felonies and got away with them, not to mention the stuff I made the character in the game do! I still got a relatively happy ending that I presume was the best the game had to offer. Again, I don’t really like replaying games, but thankfully the autosave loaded up to the final confrontation so that I could see an alternate ending that was less than satisfactory. I tried for other possible endings from this position and could only get a very small deviation from one of the two main ones.

To the credit of The Last Time, there’s apparently no “wrong answers” for dialog trees. Whatever answers you choose simply become the truth. Thus, my version of Jack the protagonist was a bitter, out-of-touch homosexual who decided the best way to leave his retirement home was to break-through the glass of the front door instead of just asking the receptionist to buzz him out. Frankly, once I decided to go through the front door.. literally.. and still didn’t get a game-over screen, I set out to make the worst decisions every time they presented themselves. While I genuinely laughed my ass off at getting away with so much absurdity, I have to admit I didn’t feel any stakes or tension.

That's a fine job, Lou.

I swear on all that is holy, I was trying to shoot the cancer off his left ear.

The Last Time avoids absurd “use item on object” puzzles and feels a lot more like a visual novel. There’s maybe two or three times you carry an item, but the methodology is, gasp, logical. There’s a fire blocking a door. “Get towel, make it wet, use on fire.” Easy peasy. In a classic game of yore, it would be something absurd like “use party-popper on cat to get it away from a mouse that will drop a squirt gun for you” or some such nonsense. Okay, so this concept goes a little off the rails during a prison scene where you have to fetch six cigarettes. And the payoff between a friendly prisoner and the protagonist was so cringe-inducing that I wonder if the developer lost a bet and had to include it. In fact, I wouldn’t classify any of the writing as “strong.” “Acceptable” is the appropriate word for most of the game. “Assault and battery against the English language” rears its head a few times, and not always in a “at least it’s so bad it’s funny” kind of way.

So, did I like it? I actually did. Flawed as it is, The Last Time is fast-paced, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and I legitimately laughed out loud both times I sucker-punched someone for absolutely no reason and it worked. But, the characters are shallow, the villain reveal was predictable, and again, there’s no sense of urgency, even when the game tries to present such a scenario. Credit where it’s due: The Last Time rose just above blandness despite its flaws and I would welcome further efforts by developer. And that comes from someone who really doesn’t like these kind of games. Saying I’m looking forward to more of these would be like an amputee saying he’s looking forward to more gangrene.

headerThe Last Time was developed by Big Cow Studios
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$3.59 (normally $3.99) learned her shooting skills from Dick Cheney in the making of this review.

The Last Time is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard


Volchaos and Hypership Out of Control (Second Chances with the Chick)

Full disclosure: developer Kris Steele of Fun Infused Games isn’t just a friend of mine. He’s one of my best friends. I treasure our relationship, which is one of the first I got through Indie Gamer Chick. Whether he’s helping me cope with Golden State choking away the NBA Finals (and when that didn’t work he simply yanked me off the ledge I was on) or we’re just talking about life stuff, I’ve always thought to myself “how lucky am I that I made friends like this from my silly little indie review blog?” While I haven’t always reviewed his games kindly, I’ve always respected and admired him, and my readers should know that, in the interest of fairness.

Got it? Good.

I hate Volchaos by Kris Steele and his Fun Infused Games. And it has nothing to do with punishers not being my genre of choice. It’s just a very unenjoyable game, far too concerned with dick-move enemy placement and leap-of-faith platforming than it is being entertaining. I first played it way back in December 2011, when it debuted on XBLIG. It was hampered by miserable controls that made it hard for me to realize just how bad the game is from a purely design point of view. And it really pisses me off because I know Kris is better than this. I never really planned on giving Volchaos a second look, and Kris never activated his automatic Second Chance with the Chick for it (refresher: it is my policy that every single game I review is subject to a no-questions-asked second chance upon developer request, provided the game has been patched in a way that addresses at least one criticism of mine). But, with the arrival of Volchaos on Steam with improved controls and minor cleanups of issues, I figured, why not?


The game is not glitching here. I’m standing on an invisible platform. It really came across as a glitch that the developer left in and called a feature, but actually Kris told me this was a design choice. I spent an hour telling him it was a bad one that the average player would think is just an exploitable glitch. He disagreed. But I’m right.

But no, it’s still not good. Don’t get me wrong. Volchaos on PC is much better than it was five years ago. The controls are still too loose, but they’re more responsive. The problem is level design is too brutal to be enjoyable. This is a punisher based on relatively short time limits, forcing you to charge through stages as quickly as possible. I don’t mind split-second decisions. Hell, anytime I made it two extra inches further on the Impossible Game per life instead of just one felt like an incredible achievement. But in Volchaos, the enemy placement is so unfair as to be infuriating. This was undoubtedly a case of a developer forgetting that he is the best player in the world at his own game, ramping up the difficulty to challenge himself and forgetting that nobody else has or ever will devote as much time to it as they have. In fact, Kris admitted as much to me. Note to all developers: get others to tell you how hard your game is. Do not attempt to judge for yourself. It is impossible to divorce yourself from your own development. Unless you have multiple personalities, and if that’s the case, make sure one of them isn’t a complete dick.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Skip Volchaos and take a look at Hypership Out of Control on Steam instead. The game retains all the charm of the mobile version. This is Kris’ masterpiece. A twitchy, lightning fast, scoring-based arcade shmup that’s so addictive that owning it on two platforms feels like it should be prosecuted the same way you would for doctor shopping. It’s basically the same game as the iPhone version. I prefer the super accurate movement of the mobile version, but the PC version has buttons and thus it’s easier to use bombs than the clumsy double-tap on mobile. The biggest news is that, once you’re carrying a maximum load of bombs, any extra-bombs you pick-up automatically detonate. It’s a small fix, but one that made me quite happy. It’s something I brought up in the previous review and Kris fixed it. Goody for him. It’s always nice when a developer, friend or otherwise, takes your advice to heart. Though it’s probably a good thing Kris didn’t listen to all my advice. If he had done with Volchaos what I told him to do, he’d probably be walking funny right now.

hsocVolchaos and Hypership Out of Control were developed by Fun Infused Games
Volchaos point of sale: Steam
Hypership Out of Control point of sale: Steam, iOS.

igc_approved$2.99 (Volchaos) said “it still doesn’t look like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

$1.99 (Hypership) said “hell, the fucking spaceship looks more like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

Hypership Out of Control is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Volchaos can go fuck itself.

The Narrator Is a DICK, Hikikomori No Chuunibyou, and Hiiro

The Narrator Is a DICK is a punisher, the hook being humorous commentary designed to take the edge off the brutal difficulty. This is the second game this year I’ve reviewed where the main draw is a running audio commentary. But, unlike Deadly Tower of Monsters, Dick’s commentary just plain isn’t funny. I was hoping for it to be similar to the classic Looney Tunes short Duck Amuck (which was later turned into an incredibly overlooked Nintendo DS title that’s worth tracking down). Instead, it’s just snarky “gotcha” type of quips while you die unavoidable “gotcha” deaths. The controls are too loose. The level design is based on surprise deaths. Because of this, you would think the game would have more lines and jokes than it does, but you’re almost certain to hear the dialog repeat again and again. Difficult to the point of boredom. A game that almost is defiant in its lack of entertainment. I can’t think of anything nice to say about it. The Narrator Is a DICK is one of the worst games I’ve played at IGC.

The Narrator Is a DICK

The Narrator Is a DICK is an exaggeration. More like the Narrator Is Mildly Annoying. $4.99, available on Steam.

Hikikomori No Chuunibyou is an acrobatic platformer from the developer of samurai_jazz. While I didn’t hate that title, it had abysmal control and boring combat that I felt sunk a game that had a lot of potential. Here we are, 18 months later, and Hikikomori.. has abysmal play control and boring combat. Sigh. What really kills the game is the awful wall-jumping, which is the primary gameplay mechanic. It’s unresponsive (at least with an Xbox One controller) and never feels smooth. The horrible controls immediately render Hikikomori unpleasant to play. I’m not a fan of any game where the challenge comes primarily from fighting with the controller, and this is no exception.

That's my corpse being juggled by enemies in

That’s my corpse being juggled by enemies in Hikikomori No Chuunibyou. To the game’s credit, the combat is better than in samurai_jazz. It mostly works this time, though it’s incredibly boring. $1.99 (I paid $1.69), available on Steam.

Normally I wouldn’t have bothered to review either of these games, since I quit both of them fairly early in. Neither was fun and didn’t really have potential to suddenly be entertaining without heavy patchwork. I have nothing particularly insightful to say about them. But, I played a third platformer around the same time called Hiiro that made me think about how fine a line between success and failure can exist in Indieland.

Hiiro is a death-free, combat-free exploration platformer where you search a large map for trinkets. It’s minimalist to a fault, where there’s no stakes or driving motivation to keep you going. The double-jump is a bit touchy, but otherwise there’s really nothing wrong control-wise. It’s short and simple and whimsical. The layout is (mostly) rudimentary, with simple puzzles that make it more suitable for young children than cynical, blood-lusting adults. As someone who thinks minimalism is code for “no vision or creativity”, I probably shouldn’t have liked Hiiro at all since there’s really nothing here to like. Yet, it’s actually pretty okay, enough for me to recommend it to those who don’t really want much in the way of challenge.

I'm holding out for a Hiiro 'till the end of the night. He's gotta be red and he's gotta be bland and he's got to beaten by night.

I’m holding out for a Hiiro ’till the end of the night. He’s gotta be red and he’s gotta be bland and he’s got to beaten by night.

So why does Hiiro succeed while the other two fail? It just comes down to playability. Hiiro works. The wall-jumping in Hikikomori is bad from the start. The brutal difficulty, repetitive dialog, and awful controls of Narrator make it bad from the start. There isn’t a whole lot to Hiiro, but at least you can immediately begin appreciating the work put in, instead of saying “this probably wasn’t ready to be released yet.” Hiiro is fine but bland. The other two games had a significantly higher ceiling, but defy enjoyment. Hiiro allows you to appreciate the vast world created, and the sense that it’s developer will be someone to keep an eye on. Hopefully he learns how to include shortcuts next time. And plot. And stuff to do.

headerHiiro was developed by Ben Harvey
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$2.54 (normally $2.99) Barely stayed awake writing this in the making of this review. Sorry.

Hiiro is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. The other two games are most certainly not.

Mystery Castle

When I started Indie Gamer Chick in July of 2011, I figured I’d be playing a lot of new ideas and experimental concepts. Ha. Silly me. Most of indie games take their inspiration from games of yesteryear. This is fine, especially when those muses are properties that have long since been abandoned. Take the Adventures of Lolo, for example. Here’s a franchise whose last American release came when I was two-years-old. A series popular enough that it had three full releases for the NES, and even more globally, but has gotten no love since. Hell, the Smash Bros series is by HAL, the studio behind Lolo, and yet it can’t even get so much as a trophy in the series. Yea, him and Princess Lala were villains in the Kirby series, but that isn’t much comfort. That would be like Fox saying “yea, we cancelled Firefly, but hey, you can see Captain Mal flipping off Jack Bauer in the background of an episode of 24 so it’s fine!”

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

I hadn’t played Lolo until I found an XBLIG called Aesop’s Garden, and someone said “well it’s just a Lolo clone.” It’s not, though the inspiration is clearly there. Since then, I found another Lolo-inspired indie gem, SpyLeaks, which I liked so much that I included it in my Indie Royale bundle back in 2013. While those games expanded the Lolo concept, people who wanted just a straight re-imagining of franchise might not have liked them. For those unambitious types, Mystery Castle is probably their best bet. It holds the distinction of being the only Ouya game I ever finished. I liked it just fine, but never bothered to review it on account of it, well, being an Ouya game. My reviews of puzzle games here are already as well received as a diagnosis of Gonorrhea, and the double whammy of being on a platform only owned by people who hate money made it seem like a waste of time to write-up. But now it’s on Steam and Xbox One, so here’s what I have to say about it: it’s fine.

I mean, you’re not going to be enthusiastically singing the praises of it to anyone. Mystery Castle’s gameplay is as forgettable as its name (one fan of mine mistook it for a remake of an NES game called Milon’s Secret Castle, which I guess is known for being horrible), but it’s solid. The idea is you’re a gnome. You have to puzzle your way through rooms, collecting diamonds to open up an exit. The formula is somewhat adjusted by having things like warps to push boxes through, lanterns to light invisible paths, or keys that only work on certain doors. The controls are a little too floaty, which is common for the genre because you sort of have to be able to move one-half-space at a time, or else it would be too hard to maneuver blocks into the correct positions. Veterans of Lolo will get used to it quickly.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

So is it fun? Yea. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had played it only a couple of stages at a time instead of trying to plow through it as fast as possible. Puzzlers can be exhausting to attempt in one sit-through, something that I’ll fully admit is unfair for game developers since their genre doesn’t lend itself to the review process. Especially when the game has a lot of needless dialog and explanation. Really, the only part I truly hated were the ice stages, which feel closer to a game called Starzzle that I reviewed a week after launching IGC. I’ve given up on developers ever figuring out that most gamers would rather lick rust than play ice stages. But, whatever. There’s enough new ideas to keep things relatively fresh from start-to-finish, enough so I think anyone wanting a game like this will be satisfied. While I still prefer Aesop’s Garden and Spyleaks, Mystery Castle is really good for what it wants to be. Really, this is closest in feel to a direct sequel to Lolo you’ll probably get anytime soon. If you like that series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t. Easiest. Review. Ever.

Mystery Castle logoMystery Castle was developed by Runestone Games
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox-One, Ouya

igc_approved1$9.99 (I think, not sure what I paid for the Ouya version) said “Thank you to all my readers for five incredible years of support. Here’s to the next fifty!” in the making of this review.

Mystery Castle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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